Offshore Wind Farms: Spinning Towards a Cleaner Future

With growing alarm regarding climate change in the new millenium, the United States has energized efforts to utilize clean energy sources. Over the past decade, the United States has invested $25 billion dollars in the wind industry. However, while US interest in wind energy has increased, the nation has not capitalized on a segment of the wind energy industry that the rest of the world, specifically Europe, has made significant efforts in developing: offshore wind farms. The United States is not taking advantage of this source of wind energy, but we should be. It has the potential to revolutionize our energy dependency and greater economy.

The wind energy industry can be divided into two categories: onshore and offshore wind farms. Over the past decade the United States wind industry has increased 24-fold. However, the entirety of the US wind industry consists of onshore wind farms, while a substantial amount of Europe’s wind industry consists of offshore wind farms. In only the past two years, Europe’s offshore wind industry increased by 34 percent to 69 offshore farms. In addition, the offshore wind farm industry has been a boon to the European economy. A European Wind Energy Association report projects that by 2030, over 200,000 individuals will be employed by the offshore industry in Europe. While overall the United States is the leading wind energy producer in the world, partisan polarization and conflicting governmental interests prevent the United States from catching up in this potentially revolutionary renewable energy industry.

Political actors are the main obstacle to the establishment of US offshore wind farm production. The Cape Wind offshore wind project, which has been in production for over ten years and was thought to be the first completed offshore farm, has ceased to make essential strides towards completion due to the cost of production and constant battles from wealthy opponents. William Koch, one of the billionaire Koch brothers, established a nongovernmental organization dedicated to fighting the Cape Wind project. The organization, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, focuses on cultural concerns, particularly worries from local Native American tribes who fear that the project will interfere with ceremonial and burial sites. The project has divided environmentalists as well, as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound claims that the wind farm could harm the marine life and biological diversity of the Nantucket area. Koch spent over $5 million to lead a lobbying effort against the farm and as a Cape Cod landowner clearly has a personal investment in the aesthetic appeal of Nantucket. He once said he “loves the area” and feels that the wind farm would prevent him from having a property where he can “create a family compound for my children.”

As Koch prevents the Cape Wind project from reaching development, there lies an offshore wind farm with a more hopeful future just fifty miles away from College Hill. The Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF), which is part of the Deepwater ONE Offshore Wind Project, is in the running to be the first offshore wind farm in the United States. BIWF aims to create 30 MW of energy and generate “over $100 million in economic activity in Rhode Island.” Further benefiting the Rhode Island economy, the project will foster job growth in nearby ports with resulting employment of surveyors, biologists, and engineers. The wind farm will put the United States back in the running to compete with European progress in the industry. To the dismay of people like Koch who claim that offshore wind farms will negatively impact surrounding natural life, Deepwater Wind has taken steps to diminish environmental threats offshore wind farms could pose. The Conservation Law Foundation published that it – along with the National Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation and Deepwater Wind – have formed an agreement to take measures that ensure there are minimal impacts to marine life.

While overall the United States is the leading wind energy producer in the world, partisan polarization and conflicting governmental interests have prevented the United States from catching up in this potentially revolutionary renewable energy industry.

There are many benefits of offshore wind turbines that onshore wind turbines lack. Offshore winds are stronger and produce energy faster. Since offshore wind turbines are subject to consistently higher wind levels, an offshore wind turbine could produce more energy than an onshore turbine with the same speed. Furthermore, 53 percent of the US population lives in coastal areas where onshore energy production is distant, thus pushing up energy costs. Offshore wind farms allow for a less costly and more reliable energy source for US coastal cities.

The American wind energy market is growing. As the Department of Energy reports, “in 2012, wind energy became the number one source of new U.S. electricity…representing 43 percent of all new electric additions….” President Obama’s Climate Action Plan has emphasized the importance of the expansion of this sector. The leading states with the most wind energy capacity are Texas, California and Iowa. Ultimately, the future for the wind industry relies on the discouragement of political opponents, the education of the public about the potential benefits of offshore wind farms and policy initiatives that will encourage investment in the industry.

So is there hope for the United States to catch up with other world powers for offshore wind energy? In the past year China was the highest contributor to renewable energy sources, and Europe has plans to further expand its offshore wind farm capacity in the next 15 years to 150GW, which will satisfy 14 percent of Europe’s electricity consumption. If the US government reestablishes the tax credits for the wind industry, there will be more investment at a lower cost for consumers. For the Block Island Wind Farm, the future looks positive; CEO Jeffrey Grybowski announced that “Deepwater Wind now expects its five-turbine offshore wind farm planned near Block Island to produce more power than originally projected,” which would cut electricity costs further for consumers, especially Rhode Island residents who are arranged to get a 50 percent discount in energy rates. Rhode Island may just be the pioneer for the next big energy revolution.